This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Archangel A.D., Capstan, Epoch Of Chirality, Fulci, Heavy Water, Hookers & Blow, Kryptan, Lee Aaron, Mama Doom, Mordred, Mr. Big, WaxWorm and Yngwie Malmsteen.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Having formed several years ago, Texas thrashers Archangel A.D. have spent some time preparing debut full-length Casus Belli. And while still developing their songwriting chops, there’s sufficient quality here to suggest they’re one to watch. There are clearly derivative moments – fast and furious “Bet on Death” is Motörhead worship, while high-octane “Celestion” and “Blasphemer” are custom-built for anyone who wishes Metallica hadn’t pursued a path towards stadium-filling dominance after Kill ‘Em All.
The LP isn’t all high-speed riffs, shredding leads and aggressive vocals, though. There are psychedelic touches, a Spanish acoustic folk song, a 10-minute closer and slower, blues-inflected doom of “Door to The Moon.” The end result isn’t always cohesive, but the intent is there. At times it can be a tad confusing as to what type of band Archangel A.D. want to be. However, this writer suggests their hero Cliff Burton would approve of the group’s adventurous spirit, even if not all the ideas gel together.
Capstan – Separate (Fearless)
For their second album, Orlando post-hardcore quintet Capstan pulled all the stops, bringing in influences from pop punk, trap and pop music. Unfortunately, these stylistic elements often don’t mesh together in a truly cohesive whole, and it ends up sounding forced and insincere at times. Lead single “shades of us” and “alone” are notable offenders with the trap-influenced breakdowns coming truly out of nowhere and muddying the songs’ intensity. The production is also needlessly loud and compressed, leaving the songs barely any room to breathe whenever the drums kick in.
These missteps aside, the songs are good pop/post-hardcore tunes, with heartfelt and vulnerable lyrics about unraveling love stories and some solid riffs here and there. While they veer on the side of sappiness, the few ballads are highlights of the record, especially “blurred around the edges” and it’s explosive, bittersweet ending. Overall a solid pop metalcore album from a band that tried to exit their comfort zone, but didn’t quite stick the landing.
Musician Richard How’s admiration of sci-fi and instrumental/progressive metal is apparent throughout Epoch Of Chirality’s debut album, Nucleosynthesis. Each song has its own journey, from the playful vibes of “Maiden Voyage” to the strident march of the piano-driven “The Abyssal Fleet.” Though synths play a considerable part in the album, a wide spectrum of instruments are used. There are even some unforeseen ones, like a bass lead in “Boreal,” that turn any expectations upside down.
In progressive metal, a common fault of the genre can be an overreliance on showing off, but that isn’t an issue with Epoch Of Chirality. These songs are technically sound, but they don’t just stroke How’s ego. Nucleosynthesis is a getaway, a warp back to the sci-fi of the 1980s, where wonder and danger were one and the same.
Fulci – Exhumed Information (Time To Kill)
By borrowing the name of Italian Lucio Fulci, one of the most influential Italian film directors in history, The Godfather of Gore, Fulci have become one of the more notable death metal acts in recent years. The band’s new album Exhumed Information is based on Fulci’s 1994 film Voices From Beyond. It’s a move from the band that shows how this tribute to Lucio Fulci’s legacy is deep and meaningful.
Exhumed Information is generally divided into two parts. The first part focuses on death metal that represents the sound of Cannibal Corpse’s Chris Barnes-era. The second part is songs that are synthesizer driven, which refer to the soundtrack of the horror/gore movies of the ’70s and ’80s. The arrangements reflects Fulci’s efforts to revive the pure sound and image of the horror cinema of that golden era. Exhumed Information, though it sounds like two separated worlds, is very solid and appealing on both cases; especially for those who see death metal and horror/gore cinema in one single frame.
Heavy Water – Red Brick City (Silver Linings)
Heavy Water were formed by Saxon frontman Biff Byford and his son Seb (Naked Six). In addition to collaborating on some lockdown videos featuring songs by their respective projects, they decided to write an entire album of new material.
The songs on Red Brick City explore a variety of styles. There’s a doomy vibe to “Turn To Black,” while “Personal Issue No.1” is in the hard rock vein and has a more modern approach. The venture into pop territory on “Follow This Moment,” which includes a sax solo, with other tracks incorporating classic rock and blues. They divide lead vocal duties, and also utilize some nice harmonies. Biff’s experience and Seb’s enthusiasm mesh well, with a chemistry that’s evident and an album that’s entertaining.
Hookers & Blow – Hookers & Blow (Golden Robot)
Hookers & Blow have been around for nearly two decades now, with a rotating cast of musicians joining them for live shows on the Hollywood strip. The band was formed by Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses) and Alex Grossi (Quiet Riot). The current lineup is rounded out by Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative) and Mike Duda (W.A.S.P.).
Their self-titled debut is a covers album. Their song selection is eclectic, with artists you’d expect like The Rolling Stones (“Rocks Off” and “Under My Thumb”) and Led Zeppelin (“Trampled Underfoot” and “No Quarter”) along with more surprising choices like Elton John (“Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”), Body Count (“The Winner Loses”) and The Beastie Boys (“You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party”). They stay pretty close to the original arrangements throughout. While the performances are solid, listening to the band play these songs live at a club on the strip would be more entertaining.
Kryptan – Kryptan (Debemur Morti)
Guitarist Mattias Norman has been in bands who play a variety of styles, from the melancholy of Katatonia to the death metal of Dellamorte to the doom of Trees Of Eternity. Kryptan were formed during the pandemic, and their self-titled debut EP is black metal.
The four tracks are influenced by classic Scandinavian black metal, evidenced by blastbeats and icy riffs. However, Kryptan inject some doomy sections and atmospheric keyboards that put their own spin on Swedish black metal. October Tide’s Alexander Högbom gives a diverse performance, blending death metal and black metal style vocals. It’s a compelling debut with well-written and performed songs, and hopefully they’ll keep the project going and record a full-length in the future.
Lee Aaron – Radio On! (Metalville)
It’s hard to believe Lee Aaron has been putting out records for nearly 40 years now. Starting out as Canada’s Metal Queen in the ’80s, Aaron moved into pop and jazz for some time in the early 2000s before returning to rock in 2016, after 20 years away. Radio On! is her and her band’s 14th album overall.
Written over the span of one weekend and recorded live off the studio floor (with various overdubs later on), the twelve songs on Radio On! are a catchy concoction of hard rock that showcase a tight band and super vocal chops. Aaron has lost none of her power or charisma over the years, and the songs laid down here are exactly what one wants to blast on these hot, smoky summer nights. A worthy addition to her discography.
Mama Doom – Ash Bone Skin N Stone (Majestic Mountain)
With song titles like “Vodka” and “Batshit Crazy,” and an iffy album cover, I went into Mama Doom’s new album Ash Bone Skin N Stone with no small amount of trepidation. But over the brief (29 minutes) course of the eight songs presented, this New York trio quickly won me over with their alluring blend of classic doom, occult, and psychedelic rock.
Led by some absolutely killer vocals courtesy of D. Lolli, Mama Doom surprise us by eschewing guitars for keyboards (also from Lolli), and still turning in some compelling riffs. The rhythm section of Chuckie Rumbles (bass) and Smak (drums) keep things old-school and thunderous, and the songs are catchy as hell. It’s doom/occult rock with a twist, and that twist works. Highly recommended for fans of those genres.
Mordred – The Dark Parade (M-Theory)
Among the plethora of bands that were part of the Bay Area thrash scene in the ’80s were Mordred, who released their debut in 1989. The incorporation of funk gave them a distinctive style, but after three full-lengths they disbanded. If you missed those albums the first time around, they are well worth exploring. Mordred have reunited a couple different times over the years, but haven’t released any new material until now.
Nearly all the members from Mordred’s heyday are part of The Dark Parade. Their 2021 sound is very groove-laden, with the dual guitars driving the songs. Scratches and turntable work from Aaron “DJ Pause” Vaughn accentuate the songs without being intrusive. There are some great riffs on tracks like “Dragging For Bodies” and “Dented Lives.” The album pays homage to the genre’s roots, but modern production and a fresh approach makes for an album that’s more timeless than retro.
Mr. Big – Lean Into It 30th Anniversary Edition (Evoxs)
In 1991 Mr. Big released their sophomore album Lean Into It. It was their most successful release, going platinum in the U.S. and spawning the number one single “To Be With You.” The songs “Just Take My Heart” and “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind” also charted.
The 30th anniversary edition has been remastered, with an SACD edition available for audiophiles. There’s also a second disc that includes rarities like a reggae version of “To Be With You” and an acoustic rendition of “Just Take My Heart” along with a couple of previously unreleased songs. When it comes to ’80s/early ’90s hard rock/glam metal, this album is one of the genre’s best. While Mr. Big continued releasing quality albums over the years (the last being in 2017), Eric Martin’s powerful voice along with flawless musicianship from Paul Gilbert (guitar), Billy Sheehan (bass) and the late Pat Torpey (drums) and some great songs made Lean Into It the band’s high point.
WaxWorm – Mea Kulpa (Trepnation)
The route WaxWorm took to get to Mea Kulpa was a decade-plus long endeavor, with several periods of start-stop progress. All this time has led to an album of electronic/industrial music with a sense of isolation and despair etched in its minimalistic style. A few tracks have vocals, but the crux of Mea Kulpa is instrumental, letting the dread of a track like “The Waif And Its Gun” come through with the low hum of synths.
It’s a good decision, as the bland vocals aren’t the band’s strong suit. What works for Mea Kulpa is the way the band traps the listener into this seedy sonic environment, not going the easy route by making the beats catchy or going for a dance-like trance. The songs trudge along, an extended funeral procession that doesn’t break from its stride and will find an audience in those that find glee in this sort of setting.
Yngwie Malmsteen – Parabellum (Music Theories)
Guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen issued a covers album a couple years ago, and follows that up with Parabellum, which is original material. It’s his 22nd studio album in a career that dates back to the late ’70s.
Shredding is the name of the game on Parabellum, with a lot of impressive guitar work from Malmsteen. There are ten tracks on the album, with four of them featuring vocals. That includes the opener “Wolves At The Door” and the catchy “Relentless Fury.” It’s a neoclassical power metal/shred album, but the songs with vocals add the hard rock/traditional metal vibe, even though they have plenty of guitar wizardry as well. I prefer the tracks with singing, but those who want Yngwie in his full guitar god glory will appreciate the instrumentals even more.